The Effect of Furlow Palatoplasty Timing on Speech Outcomes in Submucous Cleft Palate

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BackgroundBecause some patients with submucous cleft palate (SMCP) are asymptomatic, surgical treatment is conventionally delayed until hypernasal resonance is identified during speech production. We aim to identify whether speech outcomes after repair of a SMCP is influenced by age of repair.MethodsWe retrospectively studied nonsyndromic children with SMCP. Speech results, before and after any surgical treatment or physical management of the palate were compared using the Pittsburgh Weighted Speech Scoring system.ResultsFurlow palatoplasty was performed on 40 nonsyndromic patients with SMCP, and 26 patients were not surgically treated. Total composite speech scores improved significantly among children repaired between 3 and 4 years of age (P = 0.02), but not older than 4 years (P = 0.63). Twelve (86%) of 14 patients repaired who are older than 4 years had borderline or incompetent speech (composite Pittsburgh Weighted Speech Scoring ≥3) compared with 2 (29%) of 7 repaired between 3 and 4 years of age (P = 0.0068), despite worse prerepair scores in the latter group. Resonance improved in children repaired who are older than 4 years, but articulation errors persisted to a greater degree than those treated before 4 years of age (P = 0.01.)ConclusionsSubmucous cleft palate repair before 4 years of age appears associated with lower ultimate rates of borderline or incompetent speech. Speech of patients repaired at or after 4 years of age seems to be characterized by persistent misarticulation. These findings highlight the importance of timely diagnosis and management.

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